Romney won five of the 10 state contests on Tuesday but his margin of victory was uncomfortably slim in Ohio, the night’s biggest prize, reports Reuters.
Ohio is a politically divided state sure to be hotly contested in the November 6 election between the eventual Republican nominee and President Barack Obama.
In Ohio, Romney took a late lead of more than 12,000 votes over Santorum with 96% of unofficial results counted, and it was clear Santorum would be unable to overcome the difference.
With most of the votes counted in Ohio, Romney led Santorum by 38 percent to 37 percent and TV networks projected he would take the state. Romney ran strongest in and around the state’s largest cities, while Santorum carried the rural areas.
Rick Santorum took three states and Newt Gingrich grabbed a vital triumph in Georgia, CNN projected.
“It looks we’re going to get at least a couple of gold medals, and a whole passel full of silver medals,” Santorum told cheering supporters in Ohio well before the outcome in the Buckeye State was known.
Romney won easily in Massachusetts, as well as liberal-leaning Vermont and in Idaho, where his fellow Mormons make up a substantial slice of the electorate. Romney also won Virginia, where Santorum failed to qualify for the ballot.
“We’re counting up the delegates for the convention and it looks good,” Romney told supporters in his home state of Massachusetts.
Mr. Romney was poised to wake up Wednesday far ahead of his rivals in the delegate count, and about a third of the way to the 1,144 needed to cinch the nomination, informs The New York Times.
As of midnight, he had 332 delegates to Mr. Santorum’s 139. Mr. Gingrich had 73 and Representative Ron Paul 35.
Santorum said his victories in Tennessee, Oklahoma and North Dakota proved he was the best candidate to represent the party’s conservative philosophy.
Speaking in Steubenville, Ohio, earlier in the evening, Mr. Santorum declared: “We’ve won the West, the Midwest and the South, and we’re ready to win across this country.”
Newt Gingrich won his home state of Georgia and said he would stay in the race.
“Thank you Georgia! It is gratifying to win my home state so decisively to launch our March Momentum,” Gingrich said Tuesday night in a Twitter post.
“There’s lots of bunny rabbits that run through,” Gingrich later told supporters in Georgia. “I’m the tortoise.”
Ron Paul, a U.S. representative from Texas known for his libertarian views, hopes to score his first win in Alaska.
Tuesday was the biggest single day of the primary season, and included showdowns in several states that will determine the ability of Santorum, Gingrich and Paul to blunt Romney’s momentum toward what many believe will be his inevitable nomination.
In recent presidential campaigns, the Super Tuesday wave of primaries and caucuses has often settled the Republican race.
But this year’s race is likely to stretch until April or May – or possibly until the last contest on June 26 – under new rules designed to attract more voters and boost enthusiasm.
The next big contests are in Kansas, Alabama and Mississippi, traditionally conservative states where Romney faces an uphill battle in the coming week.
Romney’s campaign was bolstered by endorsements from leading conservatives this week including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn and former Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Recent polls indicate the lengthy primary season may actually be alienating voters as the candidates spend millions of dollars attacking each other and discussing issues like birth control that only resonate with the most conservative voters.
The continuing bitterness has drawn concern throughout the party, with Barbara Bush, the former first lady, saying this week that it was the “worst campaign I’ve ever seen in my life” and, on Fox News, calling it “too ugly.” (Mrs. Bush supports Mr. Romney.)